THE anguish felt by the sister of Boholano songwriter Joseph Gara over the loss of her fiancé in a road accident in 2019 inspired Gara to write “Sugid ni Maria,” which topped the 40th Cebu Popular Music Festival, or Cebu Pop.

The song was performed by 19-year-old Orfeshaine Quiñones.

“Sugid ni Maria” was Gara’s first entry to the annual musical tilt, which was held at the IC3 Convention Center in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City on Friday night, Jan. 17, 2020.

For his win, the 33-year-old, who was represented by his wife Lizeth, took home P100,000.

Gara is currently in Finland for a ukelele festival as part of the Philippine delegation.

Lizeth said she did not expect her husband’s song to win the longest-running Cebuano songwriting competition, which started in 1981.

“There was a ‘what-if-we-would-win’ kind of thinking,” she said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Gara is no stranger to awards, having won the top prize for his song “Paghunas” in the 2016 edition of the now-defunct Visayan Pop Songwriting Campaign, also known as Vispop.

Quiñones, for her part, said winning was the furthest thing from her mind as she made her way to the stage. She told herself to give the “right emotions” to the song.

“My advice to singers who plan to join contests is to feel the song in their hearts. They must feel the message of the song. Singing is not just about the melody, or how you groove to the beat. It is about how you feel the meaning of the song,” Quiñones said.

The Tagbilaran City, Bohol native, though, did not get the Best Interpreter nod. The title, which came with a P10,000 prize, went to Charmine Monternel, who flexed her hair-raising vocals in the song “Pailob Lang.” The song was penned by her father Fred, a literary writer.

First runner-up went to the song “Abby,” written by Barry Villacarillo and interpreted by Kurt Fick. The prize was P75,000.

Cebu Pop veteran Jay-Arr Librando penned the song “Gugma sa Kasulatan,” which was named second runner-up, taking the P50,000 prize. Librando and Leela Laburada performed the song.

The Best Lyric Video went to the song “Sugboanong Musika” of Frenyx Tarongoy.

Each of the 12 finalists also received P20,000.

Veteran composer Dionisio Enriquez Jr. was the recipient of the 2020 Excellence Recognition Gratitude Award. Enriquez and his songwriter partner Florencio Rigodon wrote the song “Musikang Binisaya,” which placed second in the 1981 Cebu Pop.

Enriquez, who now serves as a church musician, thanked the Cebu Arts Foundation Inc. (Cafi) for giving him the award.

“Ipadayon gyod ang (Organizers should continue the) music festival,” he said.

His sentiment was shared by Cafi founder and father of Cebu Pop, First District Rep. Eduardo Gullas.

As Cebu Pop enters a new decade, Gullas hopes the music competition will not fade into oblivion.

“Cebu Popular Music Festival will continue to be delightful and entertaining in the years to come,” he said.

Gullas said he is proud that Cebu Pop continues to showcase the talents of Bisayan musicians and singers.

“It is our love offering to Señor Sto. Niño... the guardian of Cebu,” he said.